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SDG&E Concludes Meetings On Power ShutOff During High WildFire Risk

Audio

Aired 3/31/11

San Diego Gas and Electric has concluded more than a year of stakeholder meetings on whether the company can turn off power in the backcountry when the wildfire risk is high.

San Diego Gas and Electric has concluded more than a year of stakeholder meetings on whether the company can turn off power in the backcountry when the wildfire risk is high. That issue is still not resolved, but fire prevention agencies say progress has been made.

Since 2009 when the meeting began, SDG&E has replaced more than 1,100 wooden power poles with steel poles, and plans to replace 600 more in communities like Santa Ysabel, Pala, Rancho Bernardo, Del Dios and Dehesa.

The company has also undergrounded cables in densely vegetated areas near Julian/Wynola and east of Mountain Empire.

Residents, and telecommunications companies worried that cutting off power during a storm could threaten people in isolated areas.

But JC Thomas of SDG & E said the company maintains its right to turn off power under certain conditions

“It’s for safety reasons,” he said, "in that if we see wind speeds or storms or Santa Ana storms that threaten our power lines, we do have that right and the obligation to turn off the power temporarily.”

California’s Public Utilities Commission told SDG &E to come up with a cost benefit analysis of shutting off power to avoid fires.

Joseph Mitchell of the Mussey Grade Road Alliance near Ramona said that didn’t happen, even after more than a year of meetings.

“Instead,” he said, “SDG & E maintains most of the liability. The liability is shifted away from the county, and everybody finds the best solution that we can have. It stinks but it’s the best solution that we were able to come up with.”

SDG&E will also set up another 32 weather stations for a total of 125 around the county, to watch for dangerous conditions. This allows them to monitor weather closely and only turn off power under extreme conditions.

Cal Fire and other fire agencies say the ongoing stakeholder meetings have improved communication and strengthened the region’s fire prevention network. They plan to continue to meet once or twice a year.

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